Mike Davis came up big again for Illinois with a 14-11 double-double. Watching the game, it seemed he was the only Illini capable of grabbing a defensive rebound, and that wasn't far from the truth - he had nearly half of the team's defensive boards (9 of 20). Mike Tisdale's recent rebounding surge is over - he grabbed just one board in 19 minutes and looked outmatched physically against Minnesota's freshmen big men.
For the Gophers, Damian Johnson got off to a huge start offensively, with 12 points in the first 7 minutes, but was not a big factor the rest of the way and finished with 18 points on 18 shots. He certainly made his mark on the defensive end with 3 blocks and 5 steals. Box score.
With the win, Illinois clinches a top 5 finish and a bye in first-round of the Big Ten Tournament. They also keep alive their slim hopes for a Big Ten title, with Michigan State coming to town this Sunday. Let me say that again - Illinois, with two games remaining, has a shot at the Big Ten title. That simple fact along should be enough to get Bruce Weber serious consideration for Coach of the Year.
Minnesota has now dropped back to 8-8 in conference play, but has home games against Wisconsin and Michigan to close things out. The Gophers figure to need at least one more win to secure an at-large bid, but they've been very good at home - only Purdue and Michigan State have won at Minnesota.
In the other game of the night, Michigan recaptured some of their early season magic and defeated Purdue 87-78 in 72 possessions (extremely fast for a Big Ten game). The Michigan offense was off the charts, scoring 1.2 points per possession; they did it with their best shooting night of the season, hitting a crazy 70% on twos and 50% on threes. Frankly, it's amazing that Purdue didn't get blown out when allowing that kind of shooting. The Wolverines even got to the foul line at a season-best clip, but shot only 60% from the line - apparently they needed someone guarding them. The Michigan defense left much to be desired, but I suppose you're allowed to give up 1.09 points per possession when you're shooting like that.
DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris were dynamite, scoring 29 and 27 points, respectively (on 16 and 15 shots) and grabbing 13 of the team's 29 rebounds. Robbie Hummel didn't seem to be bothered by his bad back, scoring 24 points on just 13 shots in the losing effort. Box score.
This Purdue loss changes the complexion of the Big Ten title race - Michigan State now holds a two loss lead over both Illinois and Purdue, but has to face each team one more time (with a trip to Indiana in between). The Spartans need just one more win to assure at least a share of the Big Ten title, and with that Indiana game looming, an MSU title is nearly a lock.
Still, both Illinois and Purdue have a realistic shot at a share of the title, but it requires each of them to beat the Spartans. There's actually a very credible scenario in which the three teams tie for the title:
- Illinois wins out (vs Michigan State, at Penn State)
- Purdue wins out (vs Ohio State, vs Northwestern, at Michigan State)
- Michigan State wins only their game at Indiana
Looking at Pomeroy's projections, the only game in that scenario that is less than 50% probability is Purdue winning at Michigan State, and even that one doesn't seem far fetched. That type of finish would result in Big Ten Tournament seedings of #1 Illinois, #2 Purdue, and #3 Michigan State, due to tiebreakers - so clearly the Spartans can't relax too much.
The Big Ten gets back into action on Saturday with a tripleheader:
- Iowa @ Northwestern, 1pm CT, Big Ten Network
- Ohio State @ Purdue, 3pm CT, ESPN
- Indiana @ Penn State, 5pm CT, Big Ten Network
The big match-up figures to be Ohio State at Purdue - the Buckeyes could basically lock up a bid with a road win, while Purdue needs to win out to have a shot at the Big Ten title.
On Sunday, we've got two very big games:
- Michigan @ Wisconsin, 1pm CT, Big Ten Network
- Michigan State @ Illinois, 3pm CT, CBS
Michigan's chances look a lot better after the Purdue win, but they could still use one more victory to finish 9-9 in-conference and not leave anything to chance. Wisconsin wants to take care of business at home; otherwise they'll have to win at Minnesota next week to acheive 10 conference wins.
The Michigan State/Illinois tilt has huge implications for the Big Ten title - Michigan State clinches at least a share with a victory, while Illinois still has a shot at the #1 seed in the BTT if they can win out. The two teams played very close in East Lansing, so it should be a good one.